As I walked through the temple to the kitchen area where the women were gathered preparing the food for the evening offering and meal on the third and final day of my mother-in-laws funeral rites, I noticed uncle Nim sat on the floor of the kitchen with two other men. One in his usual farming garb was Daeng from the house opposite my mother-in-laws with his easy smile. The other I didn’t know. He wore cleaner and more expensive clothes and had several baht of gold hanging around his neck. His nails were clean and he was clean shaven.
They were half way through three big bottles of Leo beer. Uncle Nim always friendly towards me and in reality friendly towards anyone whop was family or even not as long as they didn’t commit the cardinal sin of saying anything bad about anyone in his family, invited me over. After spending two entire days in the temple I was pretty accustomed to now sitting crossed leg on the floor for long periods, something I had not been accustomed to on first arrival.
I sat and took the proffered glass. Honoured as was the stranger to be offered beer in a glass rather than the metal mugs Uncle Nim and Daeng were using. As was, it seemed, the custom at such family and friend gatherings there were no introductions just sitting quietly and supping on the beer with the occasional word almost whispered. The already half finished three bottles were quickly dealt with and the stranger produced some money and despatched Daeng off to get some more. He quickly returned and on his return Uncle Nim quickly made his apologies and rose leaving us.
It was not often I had seen Uncle Nim take leave of a party situation and especially one in which friends and family were in abundance. The quiet drinking continued which considering the state of my ability in Thai in those days was not something I minded. Spending two and half days in a temple with few people who even spoke two words of English aside from my own wife taught you to be happy and calm with you own quietitude and I actually suspect, language aside, just spending several days in a temple had that affect on anyone. It was a place that seemed to cry out for quiet and self-consideration outside of the almsgiving times.
The next three bottles seemed to disappear quickly as the stranger relaxed and started to joke with the Kamnan’s wife who was overseeing the preparations for the evening food. A light heady atmosphere prevailed in this sanctum of the women with our small group as the only men to have penetrated it. The stranger was clearly popular with all the women and his attentions soon had laughter permeating the kitchen.
Through it all Daeng sat now looking uncomfortable. His eyes always darted around when he felt this way, and when I suggested he go buy three more bottles he was clearly relieved. While away the jesting and laughter carried on with the women clearly giving back as much as they got. Daeng arrived back with the bottles and sat down opposite me. The stranger was still distracted but soon with a lull in the conversation he was back with us opening and distributing the beer. Daeng at this point was able to make his excuses and leave.
The stranger and I sat quietly both smiling and relaxed but with not a word said and drank the beer slowly. Every now and again this quiet ritual would be broken with a comment thrown at or by the stranger usually followed by good natured laughter. After staying in the temple for so long time had really no meaning and it was hard to guage any period but this lasted for what seemed a long time. It was a happy interlude from not really knowing what was going on around me in the customs and rites associated with a traditional northern funeral in Thailand. However, all things end and this one ended when my wife came over and whispered to me. He has many things to do tonight and needs to go and get ready, so it is time to say goodbye and go.
After a short time of drinking a final glass of beer I rose and said it was time for me to shower and bade my farewell to the man whose name I had still not learned. On leaving I walked with my wife and asked her what he had to do tonight and she told me that he had a full night of gambling to get through at the temple. It was a tradition that gamblers would attend funerals in temples and stay around all night gambling and awake while others slept. Whether this was intended to ward off spirits, was to make up numbers or was just a safe haven from police I never found out. My wife also as we walked away asked me if I knew who that was. I of course said no. “Oh that is the gunman I told you about”. But that is another story.